Archive for September, 2011

The Death of Sen. Mark Hatfield

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

One of my heroes as a young Christian has passed away: Senator Mark Hatfield (August 7). Wes Granberg-Michaelson has a fine obituary in the current Christian Century. Thanks to David Jacobson for pointing this out, and for indicating the following important paragraph from the article:

Yet Hatfield was wary of attempts to use religion to give a patina of righteousness to political power. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1973, with President Nixon on one side and Billy Graham on the other, he said, “If we as leaders appeal to the god of civil religion, our faith is in a small and exclusive deity, a loyal spiritual Adviser to power and prestige, a Defender of only the American nation, the object of a folk religion devoid of moral content.” Speaking against the backdrop of Vietnam, Hatfield said that “we must turn in repentance from the sin that scarred our national soul.” Few of his speeches received such widespread attention as this one did. His prophetic words touched many people—and solidified his position on President Nixon’s “enemies list.”

A Must-Read: Cavanaugh’s “Migrations of the Holy”

Monday, September 19th, 2011

I have been out of touch for quite some time now, largely due to all the commitments associated with the beginning of the academic year. I may have to rename this blog “Civil Religion Alert,” however, since that seems to be my “shtick” these days.

Now that 9/11/11 is behind us, much could be said about what transpired. Our church service was unfortunately consumed with 9/11, some parts good, some bad, some ugly–the last of these being a call to worship that included a psalm text about shattering our enemies. (Ouch.) Fortunately, in the providence of God, the lectionary readings for the day made it virtually impossible not to say something Christian and uncivil (i.e., not civil-religion-ish), so the sermon was (largely) part of the good.

Another antidote to civil religion has appeared in the form of a new book by William T. Cavanaugh at DePaul University, author of the important book Torture and Eucharist. The new book is called Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church (Eerdmans, 2011).

Indebted to Hauerwas but carving his own way, the Catholic Cavanaugh has written an excellent well-written and well-argued series of essays critical of American civil religion and its liturgies, and constructively presenting an alternative theology of liturgy and ecclesiology.

It is a book that I will be recommending to many folks, including those in my current class on the book of Revelation. (I interpret Revelation as a manifesto against civil religion, ancient and contemporary, in my book Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness, from Cascade, 2011).